Snowrunner, the sequel to Saber Interactive’s 2017 Mudrunner, expands upon its American Wild Expansion, giving a larger slice of mud strewn playgrounds, and as the name suggests introducing the Alaskan wilderness, in which to traverse in an expanded roster of rough and ready vehicles.
The runner series of games, for the uninitiated, are no holds barred simulations that put you in the role of Emergency Response/Haulier/explorer/general “man with a van” across a vast environment, and with this edition, those environments have gotten even more vast. As I mentioned before, the namesake map adds four wintry zones in Alaska to the seven revisited zones in Michigan and Taymyr, Russia that make up the sprawling 30km2.
The core premise is to transport goods, or even yourself, across the map with limited resources and an extremely unforgiving environment. The gameplay is a decidedly niche affair, but at the same time is immensely satisfying. Mud, Water, ice, snow, flora, and rocks. Everything can, and most likely will hinder you as you try to reach your destination. Fuel is limited, and pushing your struggling engine through the gears to move through the mud, snow or water, activating All wheel drive, or pushing your vehicle up a slope increases the rate at which fuel is consumed, and it is ridiculously easy to run out before you finish the mission.
These missions come in three core flavours and while the environmental challenges help them all feel unique they can become quite repetitive, although with the rewards for completing any of the tasks usually worth putting in the time to complete them.
Contracts are your bread and butter and your core progression and each area has three companies vying for your assistance, whether it be something as simple as transporting tools to a nearby flooded farm, all the way up to transporting a set selection of materials across numerous of the maps interconnected zones. Other contracts require specific vehicle types or modified frames such as loading cranes, fuel tanks or saddles for trailers.
Next there are the contests, which require you to complete relatively simple tasks in a specified time limit, and only through learning the map & trucks will you find the optimum route and vehicle to accomplish the challenge.
Finally, there are the tasks, which range from impactful and world-changing, to throw away on off missions. One task may have you supply materials to repair a downed electricity pylon, or repair a broken bridge to open up new routes and paths around the zones, while others have you knocking over barrels or reaching a vantage in an out of the way part of the map, or recovering stranded vehicles to add to your fleet.
While your fleet initially consists of a rather beat-up Chevy Pickup, and a GMC9500 with Sideboard bed, it is not long before you are unlocking other vehicles to add to your arsenal. With four classes of vehicle ranging from the nimble scout, flexible offroader, stalwart Highway trucks to the powerful Heavy Duty vehicles, there is 40 varied trucks for you to find, buy and unlock along the way and all have a multitude of configurable options.
These options have to be balanced out based on your needs and their drawbacks. More powerful engines mean fewer miles to the gallon, improved gearboxes can give better low gear to push through those tough off-road patches but again reduce how much speed you can get and distance you get for your fuel. Winches, tires, suspension, even snorkels for improved water traversal can be modified and unlocked on every vehicle and with some able to unlock AWD and Diff Lock to improve your vehicles ability to tackle some of the more serious challenges in the game. While some of these can be unlocked for free by finding the upgrades in the wild, usually hidden well off the beaten path, most have to be bought with your contract earnings, and most, but not all have to be unlocked before you can even consider getting them. Every contract awards XP as well as cash, and more and more customisation is unlocked the further you progress into the game, allowing you to go back and pick up some of those missions that you maybe just didn’t have the right configuration or power to complete on your first attempt.
Visually, the game is stunning with the dark moody browns and autumn orange/red of the forests in Michigan looking as stunning as the densely packed green forests of Taymyr or snowfields of Alaska, and you could not be blamed for stopping to enjoy the view from a peak as the sun sets around you. Night brings new challenges, with an almost imperceptible darkness that can, and did, cause many a broken suspension or banged engine block if you don’t take it carefully. Thankfully, there is the option to skip time, but honestly, where is the fun in that? This game rewards careful meticulous gameplay and there is nothing more satisfying than navigating a tricky bog, or Mud slicked back road, with your precious cargo safely delivered at the end.
Sadly there are a few flaws that stand out. Firstly, the camera issues that plagued Mudrunners and its predecessor Spintires are still apparent. Occasionally the camera will spin even without much prompting, and without any option to reduce the camera responses or reset its position it can make traversing difficult environments all the more frustrating. Secondly, while the vehicles you unlock in Michigan transfer across to Alaska, a lot of the vehicles are continent bound, so you effectively have to start over when you delve into the Russian maps.
Overall, if you enjoy a challenging sim, Snowrunner could hit all the right notes even with its minor niggles. It isn’t for everyone and is rather a niche title, but there is a lot of fun to be found in this title.